Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer and mom of two little ones. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
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Getting my body (strength) back after baby, and my go-to workout!

Disclaimer/update: It was different after the second baby and I really think I need to write another post like this from my perspective after having two!

I've shared here and there how parenting has been a huge shift for me. One of the reasons was my struggle with back pain and feeling like myself. I did lose the baby weight quickly, but I would still say I’ve had a hard time getting my body feeling the way it did pre-baby. With having a newborn, buying a fixer-upper house, moving, going back to work, having Jason go back to school, having Jason move to a city three hours away for six weeks, more work on the house… for the first six months or year of Otto's life it was really, really hard for me to work out regularly, and I was still dealing with that back pain for a lot of that time. (See my 3-month postpartum update and 6-month updates.) But I’m very, very happy to report that I have gotten into a fitness routine again and it’s so easy and manageable to fit in--I can even do it in our living room, because you know our garage gym is covered in tools right now!

Getting my body (strength) back after baby


Before I got pregnant with Otto, I was in really good shape. After not doing much other than yoga and running for most of my adult life, in 2013 or 14 I got into strength training (specifically heavy weightlifting). I worked up from the bottom and saw progress quickly. I did some simple workouts I found online on a knowledgeable trainer's site. A year or two later I decided to try CrossFit and Jason and I went to CrossFit classes for several months, and have done so there regularly since then too. Including when I was six months pregnant for a while!

But sometime in 2015 or 16 I decided I wanted to work on high intensity interval training mixed with lighter weight, as I didn’t think I would ever be an advanced CrossFit athlete and I’d seen a couple other trainers I followed have success with lower weight, more rep training. So I started doing Nike Training Club app workouts, went to an Orange Theory class, and did a ton of Juli Bauer's powerful free workouts. (I definitely recommend that app and following Juli if you are short on time and don’t want to go to a gym, but want a challenging workout!)

What pregnancy did

But guess what? After not working out for most of my pregnancy and immediately after, I lost a ton of strength and muscle mass. I didn’t do a push-up for probably eight months. (Oops, and I still haven’t tried a handstand!) Thankfully I was cleared to do ab exercises a couple months postpartum after seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist and my chiropractor. My legs and arms look pretty scrawny to me now compared to what they were right before I got pregnant! And I really miss being able to back squat and dead lift and do all the things that require barbells and lots of weight.

Working out after baby

So I decided to do something about it! I tried the gym at the rec center near our house, and it was OK, but I am an introvert and I really like working out either at home or in a calm setting like Barre3--but I want more variety and to be able to tailor my workouts based on what I’m feeling like that day.

Still favoring my sensitive areas like my little back, my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, final year physical therapy student husband put together a strength training program for me that I could do in our living room. It’s loosely based on Starting Strength: several basic exercises that you can scale up or down and progress over time. The classic Starting Strength exercises are squat, bench press, overhead press, dead lift, and power clean.

We have a 35 pound kettlebell and 10 and 15 pound dumbbells in our living room right now. Those are the easiest tools for me to use. So now, my workout is some combination of 3-4 exercises from each of these categories:

Lower body:

  • Kettlebell swing x 15
  • Kettlebell front/goblet squat x 12
  • Kettlebell single leg deadlifts x 8 each side
  • Kettlebell lunge x 8 each side

Upper body:
  • Bent-over dumbbell row x 12
  • Dumbbell curl plus overhead press x 12
  • Dumbbell fly x 8
  • Push-up x 12
  • Dips on coffee table x 12

Plus a core exercise like slow bicycles or side plank with reach. Repeat for 4-5 sets.

It takes me about half an hour so I can do it if I wake up before the baby on weekends, or right after work when I get home if Jason takes Otto outside or something. I’ve been able to do it 2+ times a week for the past several months, most weeks. I count my sets on the baby's bead counter toy that we keep on the floor of the living room! I can listen to podcasts while doing it.

I definitely get sweaty! And, I’ve been swapping out some exercises for different or more challenging ones, and adding to the reps. I started with 10 reps of most things and now I’m doing 12 for most exercises. (That’s a great way to make something harder when you don’t have more weight to add, or are progressing gently.) Some days the kettlebell swings don’t feel good, so I just do goblet squats. A couple times recently I’ve done lunges with a 35 pound kettlebell, that’s pretty hard--for me right now, anyway.

I love when I feel a little sore the day after workout, makes me know I am really doing something and progressing. I've felt this way with this workout in the very beginning and as I switch out exercises and increase the wraps.

One downside of doing a very long super set like this is that it is boring. I could switch it into arm and leg supersets and break the exercises apart, so do five of all the leg stuff and then the arm stuff, but that’s harder to track.

What working out does

The most important thing about getting back into working out is that my back pain has not returned like it did several months ago when I wasn’t doing much exercise. Another huge benefit for me is confidence. I feel so good when I’ve done a work out! Powerful, skilled, responsible, and like I’ve made progress towards something important.

I also have definitely seen an improvement in my strength!! When I started doing this work out it was really, really hard to do 10 push-ups. Now I can do 12 without breaking for at least the first 1 to 2 sets, then I usually drop to my knees halfway through. But push-ups are an essential skill and it’s important to me that I’m able to do them, so I want to keep working on it.

I used to have a timer that went off every night at 8:00 or 8:30 PM. It was called Push-ups, and I was supposed to do three sets of 10 push-ups. I did this for probably over a year before getting pregnant when the fatigue set in. That’s a great way to keep up on strength, too, even if you don’t have time for a full workout or changing into gym clothes... you can do push-ups every day. You can do 10 jumping lunges every day. No weights needed, just a clean enough floor. If you see a physical therapist they’ll probably give you exercises to do at home, same principle with these. Hopefully there aren’t too many so it’s manageable, and you can do some of them every day.

Moving and moving forward

So, that’s my experience so far! I’m so, so happy that I found a workout system that works for me. I would like to someday either find a gym or class that I can go to, if I have a solution for childcare, but as long as I can stay motivated and stick to my calendar reminders to work out, I do really like doing it at home. (Plus definitely look forward to finishing up some projects so we can get all the junk out of our garage and use our pretty awesome barbell weights, bench, squat rack, etc. out there.)

If you’ve never worked out before, I really recommend working with a trainer or participating in a CrossFit on ramp program just for maybe 3 to 6 weeks so that you can learn the basics of the exercises. Then, you can choose to do them at home or with a trainer or class. Once you have the skills, you can pick up on workouts that you find anywhere and see what you like.

Next time I get pregnant, I really, really, really hope that I can stick with some kind of workout routine (at least after the first trimester) so that I don’t lose so much strength again. Of course it’s harder with a toddler around! But I think it’s worth it.

Note: These are just my experiences and opinions, not medical advice. Consult a physical therapist for personalized advice.

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